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Illinois schools to receive taxpayer dollars for special education referrals

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(The Center Square) – A new law allows Illinois school districts to get reimbursed with taxpayer money for sending their troubled students to both public and private special education programs.

Senate Bill 3606 was signed by the governor earlier this month and seeks to allow school districts to be reimbursed when sending troubled students, with an Individualized Education Plan, to either private day care centers or public day care centers.

Some raised concerns about the potential for an additional $120 million cost to the taxpayers. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Michelle Mussman, D-Schaumburg, said there would be no appropriation increase associated with the bill.

State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, pressed the sponsor and asked if the bill would do anything for the students with an IEP.

“Would the bill increase the level of care or education for the student?” asked Wilhour.

“They [the school districts] can receive reimbursement now for the tuition that they would expend sending a student to a public setting whereas now they can’t do that,” said Mussman.”They’re not really getting extra money, they’re just getting a reimbursement they would have never been entitled to before for using that setting.”

Mussman said school district officials would discuss with the parents the options they believe are available for that student to see their needs met.

”There may be opportunities in a private setting and there may be opportunities in a public setting and now the parent, in consultation with the team, would be able to choose which setting is most appropriate and they won’t have to be unduly influenced by the idea that only one setting may have otherwise had reimbursement attached to it,” she said.

Prior to Senate Bill 3606 being signed by the governor, school districts would only be reimbursed by the state with taxpayer money if they referred the students to a private special education program approved by the Illinois School Board of Education.

Mussman said without the law, schools would be put at a financial disadvantage.

Private special education programs provide educational, therapeutic and/or residential services to students with disabilities. Typically, students placed in these programs have complicated clinical and educational needs. School districts may opt to refer their students to outside district placements after exploring other less restrictive options.

State Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, asked about the additional cost to taxpayers if the reimbursement criteria was expanded to include public special education programs.

“A number that has been presented to our side [Republicans], that this could potentially have a cost of $120 million,” said Windhorst.

Mussman said there’s disagreement about whether that number is accurate.

“Some people have suggested that increased number, but I think there is disagreement over whether or not that is an accurate representation of what would be needed,” said Mussman. “A school is not going to be influenced by the fact that they can get reimbursed for one setting over another setting. Under federal guidelines, we meant to put our students in the least restrictive environment possible, which very often may be a co-op but a co-op is not necessarily a good financial option for a school if they can’t get reimbursement for that.”

Mussman said that without enacting the law, schools may be unduly influenced to send students to a private setting with a higher level of support than what the student may need.

The bill passed both chambers with the Senate voting 53 in favor and one against and the House voting 104 in favor and six against.

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